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Cannes Film Festival: Payal Kapadia Wins the Grand Prix for ALL WE IMAGINE AS LIGHT


In this edition, Payal Kapadia made history by becoming the first Indian filmmaker to win the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix for her film All We Imagine as Light. Payal Kapadia’s work is often celebrated for its lyrical and introspective style, employing a rich visual and auditory language that evokes deep emotional responses. Her films are noted for their intimate portrayal of characters and the seamless integration of personal stories with broader societal issues.

Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light takes place in Mumbai where Nurse Prabha’s routine is troubled when she receives an unexpected gift from her estranged husband. Her younger roommate, Anu, tries in vain to find a spot in the city to be intimate with her boyfriend. A trip to a beach town allows them to find a space for their desires to manifest.

AM: Was it easy for you to tell a story like this?
PK: Every film is really hard to make and I have become less critical of everybody because it's really difficult to work on a film. I think now, more and more, there are women-centric films getting made in in Cannes and so many films from India have women as the main protagonists. Being a woman, I think it's these ideas that come to me first, I don't think it's a choice of whether it's easy or not, it's what I need to say.

AM: What from your own experiences have you used in this film?
PK: We are all many things and have experiences that we want to understand about the world and ourselves. I don't think it's very calculated, or I at least don't think about it like that. I grew up with a lot of women and I always wanted to think about the friendship between women, and how oftentimes, it plays in a country like mine. It's the patriarchy that comes in the way between being able to support each other, and instead we are pitted against each other and we can't always be supportive of one another. I just hope that we can move towards a change in that. That's something that I have felt and experienced and been also faulted with. It was something that I was contemplating about a lot and that came through the film.

AM: And what does the we in the title stand for?
PK: It's about when you don't really know that there is a way out or another way. When you can't really think about it because it's all that you know. In that sense, I wanted to talk about imagining hope or another way. Not just India, but also outside. I think there are issues everywhere, no?

AM: In your movie, a lot can be said about patriarchy. Do you think things are changing in India?
PK: Change is the only way, so everything moving forward is changing, but not enough. I think that for me, I come from a lot of privilege in the sense that my family supports what I do. I'm really privileged to be able to do this. I don't think that everybody has this kind of support system that I do. So, I've had that advantage over a lot of other women who struggle with just basic daily life and going to work every day.

AM: Did you face any challenges once the filming started?
PK: We did actually because it's quite expensive to shoot in Mumbai as it's the film capital of India. All the big commercials get shot there and our film is not that big. So, we didn't have the resources to get all the permits and things like that. We also did a bit of documentary shooting with a smaller camera, and fortunately, my actors were really enthusiastic about it. We would be in different places and they would just be the characters and walk around because it's very difficult to have a street full of so many people. Having made a documentary before, without a big camera or everybody being aware of filming, was really helpful to me.

AM: And why Mumbai as the location?
PK: I like the city of Mumbai; it is full of contradictions because it's a city where you can come and earn and you can do better than in other parts of the country. For women it is a little bit easier to work than the rest of the country. There is a seeming sense of freedom, but you need money to have that freedom, otherwise, you are spending most of your life going up and down in the trains, living in a really bad place and not having a very pleasant life.

AM: How do you feel about being in Cannes’ official selection?
PK: I think we were mostly surprised that we got selected, and privileged that our film was in the competition. It's not a very big film, and lot of filmmakers who I studied when I was in film school were in that same festival. For me, it's a great honor to have my film here.

AM: What is next for you?

PK: I'm thinking about another film which has more nonfiction and a smaller fiction part in it. I really like experimenting with this form where fiction and nonfiction can sit together as there's a lot of possibility in it. It gives me a lot of freedom where you don't have the bigger setups, because in India when you want to make a fiction film it's really complicated. You need a unit of 80 people and it's really challenging to be very free with a lot of time, money and constraints. I just wish that I could find some other way to work.